It’s pretty likely that the General Election in nine months will lead to a hung parliament. There’s a lot of student issues still to be tackled, notably tuition fees. In the coming months manifestos are being drafted, redrafted, and proofread more times than a dissertation. For most of you, it’ll be the first opportunity to vote in a General Election, so use it well.
There’s no doubt tuition fees are now a political issue. Back in 2010, Nick Clegg pledged to get rid of them, and we all know what happened there – perhaps that’s why Old Nick has kept quiet on the fees issue, only pledging to create more apprenticeships.
Yet, Clegg’s biggest problem is not if he’ll remain Deputy Prime Minster – but if he’ll remain an MP at all. Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam is full of students, likely to seek revenge from the tuition fee betrayal by voting Clegg out entirely. With his popularity at an all-time low and student support of Lib Dems at a pathetic 0.6%, this is feasible.
Tories term in office has been markedly bad for students. Accompanying the fee rise has been a drop of 29,000 young people in part-time employment. Hence the increasing difficulty for students to find part time work, and, it’s getting worse.
According to David Willets the Former Higher Education Secretary, the Conservative party manifesto is likely to include plans allowing Oxford and Cambridge to raise their fees to £16,000 a year. If this ever happens (let’s hope it doesn’t), it’s probable that the rest of the Russell Group universities, including Southampton, will follow. The plans will detail that the university itself buys the debt. So graduates earning upwards of £21,000 will pay back the university – not the Treasury. It’s not all bad though; the Tories hope to give bursaries worth £20,000 for every maths and science grad, with a first, who goes into teaching.
On the opposite side of the fence, the Labour Party want to reduce fees to £4,000- £6,000 a year. Ed Milliband plans to fund this by abolishing a tax break that banks are receiving and giving higher interest rates to graduates earning over £65,000. After lowering tuition fees, the party would move towards introducing a ‘graduate tax’.
John Denham, the former Universities Secretary and Labour MP for Southampton Itchen since 1992, has called revival of employer sponsored degrees (costing the student nothing) and intensive two-year courses to lower University costs. Denham, a Southampton Alumnus and a former SUSU President, is retiring from Parliament in May. He has also proposed a flat-rate maintenance loan of £15,000 a year, and tuition fee costs of less than £10,000 for three years, and £5,000 for two years– as it was when Labour left office.
If you live in Southampton, one of your MEPs is Nigel Farage, who has called for a return to the student grant system – in effect, no fees to students. If pigs learn to fly and this ever happens – UKIP will fund this by cutting the number of university places and getting rid of “mickey-mouse” courses. This was perhaps viable 70 years ago, when a smaller percentage of a smaller population were attending university, but it’s dubious today.
At the last General Election, turnout for 18-24 was at 44%, and only 32% of this bracket have said they’re certain to vote in 2015. By April, manifestos will be published – and we, as students, should have a much better idea of where we stand. Students, who are too often forgotten, can make a substantial difference, so make sure you vote!
This piece originally appeared in Wessex Scene Magazine.